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takes away the meaning of flavors
Milan, Italy, 10 May 2010 – Flavor is literally the spice
of life and for many people life without the
pleasures of the table would be unthinkable.
Yet just this aspect of everyday life is vulnerable in
certain degenerative dementias, with
patients developing abnormal eating
behaviors including changes in food
preferences, faddism and pathological sweet
New research has revealed evidence that these
behaviors are linked to a loss of meaning
for flavors, as reported in the June 2010
issue of Elsevier's Cortex (http://www.elsevier.com/locate/cortex).
Dr Katherine Piwnica-Worms from Washington
University in St Louis, Missouri, together
with Dr Jason Warren and colleagues from
University College London, investigated the
processing of flavor information in patients
with semantic dementia, a degenerative
disease affecting the temporal lobes of the
Patients with this condition suffer a
profound loss of the meaning of words and,
ultimately, of things in the world at large;
in addition, many develop a preference for
unusual foods or food combinations.
The researchers tested patients' flavor
processing using jellybeans: a convenient
and widely available stimulus covering a
broad spectrum of flavors.
The abilities of patients to discriminate
and identify flavors and to assess flavor
combinations according to their
appropriateness and pleasantness were
compared with healthy people of the same age
and cultural background.
were able to discriminate different flavors
normally and to indicate whether they found
certain combinations pleasant or not, but
they had difficulty identifying individual
flavors or assessing the appropriateness of
particular flavor combinations (for example,
vanilla and pickle).
These findings provide the first evidence
that the meaning of flavors, like other
things in the world, becomes affected in
semantic dementia: this is a truly
'pan-modal' deficiency of knowledge.
The research gives clues to the brain basis
for the abnormal eating behaviors and the
altered valuation of foods shown by many
patients with dementia. More broadly, the
results offer a perspective on how the brain
organizes and evaluates those commonplace
flavors that enrich our daily lives.